Wednesday, April 30, 2008

34 Years Ago and Cable TV

A quote from 1984:

Ten years ago, when cable was young, it was envisioned as a technological wonderland, a purveyor -- through an "ultimate box" of 108 channels atop the television set -- of a lavish menu of two-way services, home banking, and tele-shopping, home security and energy monitoring, video games, polling, news and sports scores on demand. Some telecommunications experts predicted that the revenues of such services would eventually dwarf the sums realized from cable's more conventional home-entertainment fare.
The New York Times
Sandra Salmans, March 4, 1984
c/o BK

Yes ok you're thinking it's describing the interwebs. But more abstractly, no it's not. The idea to do everything through a connection to the home has been around a long time. This way we just sit at home all day and become the perfected consumer. These ideas were attached to videotex in the 1980s. What, you've never heard of videotex? But you have forgotten:
Videotex is the quintessential medium of the 21st century.

Lowenstein, R., & Aller, H. (1985). The inevitable march of videotex. Technology Review, 88, 22-29. (Quote from p. 22.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GTA IV: Niko Is From Where?

Niko Bellic, main character and avatar of GTA IV: Where is he from? He is primarily Slavic, certainly, but more specifically where is he from, given that he's actually a fictional character so doesn't have to be from anywhere and can be totally confusing or impossible?

My main former Yugoslavian source of information, Dr. S, speaks:
Given his cousin's name [Roman], he is more likely to be a Croat then a Serb. Bellic with 2 L's is also unusual, almost impossible.
His accent is more of a problem, because it is more Russian than Serbian/Croatian. If you've seen Eastern Promises, you know what I mean.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Reads

Business Week on the evil that is the RIAA.

A lot of GTA IV coverage over at Kotaku. I was just last night pointing out a slew of GTA IV ad posters from a cab here in Liberty City. Wait wait, I mean, New York. (Here is a later Slate article on GTA IV.)

Blackberry vs. iPhone (interface!).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dr. Poor on HDTV

I almost missed it, but Uncle Alfred is quoted in the NYTimes' bits blog, discussing HDTV sales and changes in buying patterns (smaller sets have seen a rise in sales). The comments, though, are rather useless and outside of making the reader feel important, I really wonder why the Times allows them. (I don't.) And the Times refuses to refer to us Ph.D. people as "Dr.", which is exceedingly annoying (we earned it too, you know).

Linux as Infrastructure

Interesting read about Linux as infrastructure by Doc Searls over at Linux Journal.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Modernity and Superstition

On the Continental jet back from Florida, I noticed that there was no row 13. I do not mean that the plane was only 12 rows long, it had 30 - 40 rows total. Amazing. A incredibly advanced and complex system of systems (the plane: the rubber, the hydraulics, the electrical system, the fan blades, the jet fuel and how it is refined and priced, radar, radio, the metals, the theory of lift, all working together) that are all highly advanced science, and we don't have a row 13 (well it's there, it's just relabeled as 14). We expect people to be afraid of the number 13 (witches coven!) even in the face of all of this science.

Reminds me of the Yankees and the t-shirt (and $50,000). It's just a shirt. 13 is just a number. Culture is powerful...

Monday, April 21, 2008

I Still Hate Microsoft

I am appalled that Microsoft Research doesn't know anything about interfaces (but I am not surprised -- actually, yes I am surprised. No wait, I'm not). The following page should not exist (the "this will help you" can be on the first page of the wizard) and why did they intentionally make the "next" button so small and far away from the natural flow of reading? Yes, I said intentionally, because they had to code it that way. Purposefully. Incredible.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


From The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman (of Nielsen Norman), which I am reading currently:

"Design is really an act of communication" (p. x).

Nice! (Having a background in comm, and liking interfaces, this speaks to me. And it is true.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Yankees

If you missed it, a Boston Red Sox fan, who lives in the Bronx and is a construction worker, buried a Red Sox jersey in the cement of the new Yankees stadium. The Yankees ownership found out about it, much brouhaha ensued, and they dug it out to the tune of $50,000 (and about five hours of drilling).


Apparently, some people take these things seriously. Yankees President Randy Levine is one of them, who said the worker "was trying to do a really bad thing" and that it was "a very, very bad act." A shirt? I had no idea a shirt could be so powerful! Billions of people wear them every day! This is incredible! And people wear them to baseball games! Scary!

According to the worker, the shirt did not cause any structural problems (it was in a floor), yet the Yankees front office were discussing possible criminal charges. I do not believe our legal system recognizes jinxes, since they don't exist except in people's heads (and no, that does not make them real).

Also amusing is the copywrong notice on the AP story ("This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed."), which is wrong, and of course I could comment on how the New York Post is taking this seriously, but if that surprises you then you don't know the Post (so I hope it surprises you).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Microsoft and Windows

According to Gartner, Microsoft's Windows Vista sucks hard. Gee, as if that is new. You, dear reader, have known that for quite some time. I don't even allow Windows in my house: I wiped the Windows PC I got from Dr. D. and put Ubuntu on it, of course (didn't even bother with dual-boot). The only piece of Microsoft hardware in the house, the XBox 360 (however their clever marketroids spell and capitalize it) is trying hard to die again (it consistently chokes after about half an hour of Mass Effect). Boo. If you make good product, they will come (if not, they will go).


Some cool (imho) recent photos.

NYC Metro:

Die Flugdrache! (Literally, flying dragon, as you can see.) From the hotel in FL.

Text of die Flugdrache (and other cool German words).

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Wow. At a Texaco convenience store here in FL (yes I am in FL). 12!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sony and PSP Hacking

I'm not going to claim to know the whole story, or even own a PSP, but really Sony... people like to play. People play games. People play with things: culture, toys, code, cars, everything. People hack their PSPs. Sony, I challenge you this: Ask your programmers and hardware geeks why they are programmers and hardware geeks. You know one answer you'll get a lot of? I do: Because they had some pivotal point where they could code anything they wanted on a machine, or built some really cool hardware that did what they wanted. Because they realized that they could play, and it would be cool. Yet you seek to take that away from your customers. If you encourage them to play, they will love you, they will work for you. This has to be some variation of if they fear you, they will fight for you; if they love you, they will die for you. Sony, let them play with the PSP, they will love you, you will be rewarded with brand loyalty (and yes, CDs with rootkits are very, very bad ideas).

Monty Hall

Nice explanation, with (flash-based?) game and useful graphics, of the Monty Hall problem over at the NYT. I think the tricky part is after a door is opened, you think it's 50-50, but that's only if all other things are equal, which they're not. Oh it's part of the NYT's cool blogspace, specifically the TierneyLab. I love its founding principles:

  1. Just because an idea appeals to a lot of people doesn't mean it's wrong.
  2. But that's a good working theory.

Friday, April 4, 2008

TimeWarner Techs Do Care!

The Mystery: A Florida phone number in the 941 area code.... I was able to dial it with my TW phone a month ago, but this week I get a recorded voice, "The number cannot be connected[?] as dialed." I called TW, they said a tech would call me back in 48 to 72 hours, and indeed, one did. He can't reach the number on his TW test phone, or on a Verizon line, but he had me try it on my AT&T phone (aka, the iPhone) and indeed it went through then (although it still won't on my TW line).

The phone system is way more complicated than I thought if this is happening.

Google Helps Bank Robbers?

Apparently, people in prison in Harrisburg, PA, may be using Google Maps to plan a route between prison and the bank for when they get out of jail (why wait?).

Mobile Device Interfaces

Over at the NYT today there is an article titled "Mobile Phone Industry Takes Aim at the iPhone". There are at least two things you can find amusing in it. One is that it is an acknowledgment that Apple has done it again. The other is that, and I grant it is not an industry article, it does not mention interfaces. The main reason the iPhone is amazing (to this analyst at least) is the interface. Using Safari's handy find function, the word "interface" does not appear in the article. "Touch" does, three times, but a touch interface is nothing, the right interface is everything (be it touch or not). "Features" is present four times. 

The article quotes Geesung Choi, the chief executive of Samsung’s telecommunications network business:
[He] predicted that the trend toward multifunction mobile phones would shift over time. The market will fragment as consumers seek out mobile phones with functions that reflect their strongest needs, like browsing the Web or watching television and movies.
Except that is not entirely correct. Phones will be powerful enough and cheap enough to do everything. There will be small niches, and there will be basic mobile phones. RIM's Blackberry was a first step in expanding the idea of what a "cell phone" could be, Apple's iPhone blew that idea apart. Think different, indeed.

Choi goes on to say: 
There is a perception that the iPhone is a phone, but it is not. It is a multimedia player. Maybe they should rename it.
That is correct, it is not "a phone" in the traditional sense of cell phones. But that tradition is now dead. We are finally in the 21st century, and the iPhone is my flying car. However the iPhone is not a "multimedia player" either. I'm going to avoid the trap of needing to name, to label, everything. The iPhone is whatever it is, regardless of what you call it (a rose is a rose is a rose). But to say it is a phone, or it is a multimedia player, focuses on its features. The iPhone is not a set of features, it is a system (beyond just itself), and most importantly, it is an interface to information, and a darn good one.

The thing is, if we label something, then all of the preconceptions for that label get applied to the object, not just the label. So if we call a car a horseless carriage, well, it's a carriage that happens to not have a horse. It is safe and familiar, and we can apply the legal and economic models we have for the old label to the new object. So, if the iPhone is a phone, we know what it is. It doesn't force us to rethink things, or cause ripples in the economic models of established industries that live in the world of that pre-existing label.

As usual, the Microsoft guy gets it wrong. Robbie Bach, the president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, says: 
It’s a consumer market. Everyone’s needs are evolving. Consumers, in the end, will get what they want.
To quote a very strategic consultant I know, "technology changes, people don't." People's needs aren't evolving at all. And it always bothers me to see people endlessly referred to as consumers, we are citizens as well. If companies forget that people are more than just consumers, they will miss out on providing goods and services that people want. Consumers are, for the most part, passive and consumptive. Citizens are active and creative: they do horrible, horrible things like write blogs.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

TimeWarner Does Not Care

Every time I call TimeWarner, on my TimeWarner phone line, the customer service rep says something like "Don't forget to ask me about TimeWarner's money saving phone service."

You will immediately notice that TimeWarner is either incapable of realizing that I am already a TimeWarner customer, or they don't bother transferring this information to the screen of their customer support person. I always tell customer support that this makes TimeWarner look bad, since they are not managing information that they already have. Caller ID is simple, they even provide it to me with my phone service. However, if the support rep ever bothers to make a note of my complaint, management does nothing about it.

Let's be straight. If you want to be my information service provider, you'd better show me that you can manage information. As it is, TimeWarner continually shows me that they do not care and they are not capable. When I call my car service, they use caller ID and reference it with their database so they immediately know who I am, what my phone number is, and what my address is. A little car service company can do this, TimeWarner could but refuses to. Information management is key.

The Middleman

The Penny Arcade guys, who, as far as I can tell, have built up to a convention, an annual fund raiser, massive street cred, and now a game, all from a mere cartoon (wow it looked totally different back then), were discussing the forthcoming On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness and the Greenhouse distribution app, and they linked to an interview they have over at Wired (with their actual pictures). 

Wired: Oh, so this goes back to the earlier experiences you guys had, where you let other people take too much control of your content and it didn't work out.

Gabe: Yeah. We were essentially in the business of being screwed, professionally, for years. If we can avoid being screwed, we're gonna do it.

This should bring to mind, dear reader, all the material you read about musicians, Napster, the RIAA (vile people), and how the Internet was going to erase the middleman and connect consumers (citizens?) directly to non-middleman businesses (all of this was heady pre-dot-con hype). Eventually the hype machine realized that middlemen can be good at times (a realization that generated even more column inches and advertising revenue), such as with news filtering, but not all the time (possibly with musicians, and I hope you've read about alternate revenue models for musicians that the Internet is allowing us to imagine and realize, and as you see above, with cartoonists).

It was striking to see the same issue being played out ten years on in the case of some really smart, capable guys. I thought we'd figured that one out, but I admit running your own web server is not an easy thing. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tee Shirts

Bought the nephew a tee shirt from this guy who makes cool designs. So cool I'm linking to his site, increasing his visibility. See what making good products and being nice to your customers does? Free advertising!